Yoga Misunderstood: Reimagining the Practice
When I was first introduced to the practice of yoga, I held two main beliefs: 1) that yoga was a lot of lying around, and perhaps 2) some kind of subtler exercise.
Then, once, I got sick.
Terrified to lose the athleticism I’d gained running 7 miles a day, I went to a yoga class. The instructor was one of those people who never wore shoes. Literally, never. He was kind, but started with “breath of fire.” [A form of breathing that reinvigorates your nervous system.] But a n00b like me, barren in my lack of awareness, I broke into laughter. Uncontrollable, embarrassing. Anyway, the class proceeded in a series of immemorable steps.
In between then and being reintroduced to the practice six years later– yoga consisted solely of that barefoot man, these women who smiled too much, and those I imagined didn’t have to work.
Then, I thought I retore my hamstring. An original injury that had me benched for close to two years. During that time, I learned to embrace and eventually love the art of walking. A form of yoga.
But torn again? I knew I was helpless against the possibility. The fact would remain if I really had. Helpless to stop it, this expanding and growing, sometimes beyond my very own means.
So I googled “yoga hamstring,” and willing my belief in the magic of those happy women, started doing a pose or two that were supposed to help loosen the muscle. And, at least in my own perception, it worked. So I hit up my friend, your very own Brittany of Tapestry, and asked her to teach me.
Brittany is an Ashtangi, so we started with Sun Salutations. The A and the B. We did them over and over and over again until I had them memorized. Then, every morning, I’d try them out. Next, the Standing Sequence, then the Primary. I ate them all up. Would spend hours on a Saturday, just doing the Standing. Willing my body to relax, grow stronger, as eventually it listened.
The balances: delicious challenges, requiring you to meditate. Focus or die. You catch my drift.
The sheer strength of flexibility’s defiance, requiring you to accept.
And the twists in their many forms, taught me how to have agency over the individual muscles, making up my legs my arms my hips. In fact, introduced me to these very muscles.
After those first few sessions, I was left broken, but in the open kind of way. Grateful for whatever endurance and strength I had built up thus far. Thank god for the running – what I once thought was the toughest sport. Requiring precision, endurance, and determination. All characteristics I once held onto like oxygen, now seemed like an almost easy piece of a larger puzzle: yoga. Precision and endurance, yes. But also flexibility, patience, an almost stubborn form of persistence. Strength I never believed was in me. That in the past year has come out. Just as my friendship with my teacher has blossomed and deepened in a way I thought impossible for friendship to embody. She continues to teach me, in her subtle ways:
The way she runs her business. That she has a business, and one with values that she has made intentionally and upholds. She gives, and I have seen how she receives in turn. She reaches, entering the unfamiliar elements. And is left with a desire to share what she has discovered with others. She practices Ahimsa, which is (detailed in the Yoga Sutras) the concept of non-violence. An argument for a vegan diet, for instance. Brittany would never go out of her way to kill an insect, mosquitoes and all. The more I considered her position, the more I understood. If karma is real – and, come on – we’ve all seen it, or at least looked for it , then why are we mindlessly smashing insects left and right. Nursing phobias toward these tiny creatures just trying to survive. In a way proportionate to us in our larger-than-life humanness.
But mostly, her openness to whatever the day will bring.
I work in mental health, spending my days in an elementary school with a caseload of 30 kids between the ages of 9 and 12. What splinters I may have harboring in my depths, these kids will scent out. The job forces me to either pick them out myself or crawl miserable between the days. But when I am open, the days pass easy. Don’t get me wrong, my day, too, wavers hot and cold with intensity. But I am more graceful on the way down, and when faced with climbing back up. Because, damn, how muscular my forearms have become.
I eventually read the Sutras, and let the pages change me. So if I may, I would like to attempt a clarification of what practicing yoga has come to mean in my life:
- A physical manifestation of your limits. The edges of your life. Take a look. Reach for them. Reach past.
- Meditation. (Silence that ego.) You cannot focus without it. You cannot balance without focus.
- Surrender: to the fact that you have limits, and often little control over how your life will come to be.
- Stillness. When you are silent in body and mind you let in the opportunity to learn. You become open. And thus, once more a mother to creativity.
- A chance to find and touch the spirit. With all its potential energy, just floating there amongst your bones.
A good friend, teacher, and/or yoga practice can encourage your life to move in a way that heals the past and expands the future. But first, breathe.